Global Policy Forum

UN Must Reform System to Succeed, Ambassador Says

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By Stacey Falardeau

February 15, 2010

The United Nations needs to evolve as an organization in order to address and successfully resolve the issues it is faced with, the Swiss ambassador said in a lecture at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology on Wednesday.

Peter Maurer spoke about key issues concerning the U.N., including climate change, peacekeeping and development, to more than 40 students, professors and Boston area residents in a lecture sponsored by the MIT Center for International Studies.

Maurer said the U.N. is an "operational agency" that is necessary to the regulation of global politics.

He said that bringing together many countries with different interests is one of the greatest challenges facing the U.N., as each diplomat has his own political agenda. "The big question is, how do we bring all those actors together to make a difference?"

Maurer said a key issue on the U.N. agenda in 2010 will be peacekeeping and that the 2010 Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference, which will take place in May, will be important in determining the course of action for peacekeeping at the global level.

"This is one of the most interesting areas in terms of political decision-making at the U.N. because it reshuffles the way we think about alliances," he said. "If we talk about non-proliferation and development, these issues follow a certain pattern of debate."

Maurer said this was not the case when discussing climate change because countries face different targets, timelines and challenges that make it difficult to reach a consensus on environmental issues such as global warming.

"Climate change structures the U.N. community and international community in a completely different way because it splits countries within themselves," he said. "We have in all countries fierce debate with how to deal with climate change."

He said the U.N.'s treatment of global warming is hindered by a lack of technological and scientific expertise within the organization.

Harvard School of Public Health professor Claude Bruderlein said students should take advantage of the still-ancient information technology in the U.N. system.

"The U.N. is about a decade late into the use of information technology, as well as understanding the importance of decentralization," Bruderlein said. "Students interested in information technology can see this as the next challenge looking at how to help such a large organization enter into this century and function differently."

CIS Public Programs Director Michelle Nhuch said the department was eager to accept an invitation to host the lecture.

"We felt like he would be able to inform the student body about the lack of science and technology expertise that is represented in the U.N.," Nhuch said. "Hopefully with him at MIT talking about the United Nations, it might encourage more people here at MIT to get involved with [these] issues."

Nhuch said that she feels it is important for students to be exposed to political actors who spread awareness and promote involvement.

MIT freshman Ekaterina Paramonova said she enjoyed learning about the other non-diplomatic issues facing the U.N.

"It was interesting to find out that there aren't that many technological specialists and scientists who are a part of the U.N. and [Maurer] seems to believe there should be, as most of the members of the U.N. are strictly diplomats," Paramonova said.


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